Meet the man with a hand in ‘Hamilton,’ ‘Dear Evan Hansen’
NEW YORK (AP) — At first blush, the Broadway musicals “Hamilton” and “Dear Evan Hansen” don’t seem to have a lot in common other than being hits both onstage and on record charts.
One is a pioneering, sweeping story of America’s birth told through the lens of a Founding Father that took the world by storm in 2015. The other is a heartfelt, more traditional show that bowed a year later about a lonely teen’s lie that spirals out of control.
But if you listen very closely, you might hear in the music of each a connective tissue. That would be Alex Lacamoire, the music supervisor and orchestrator for both shows and the man who oversaw their cast albums.
“I’ve very well aware that it’s not supposed to happen like this, back-to-back,” he said recently in a dressing room at the Music Box Theatre, home of “Dear Evan Hansen.” ″I trust my gut when it comes to music that speaks to me.”
Lacamoire, who has two Tony Awards and two Grammy Awards for working with Lin-Manuel Miranda on “In the Heights” and “Hamilton,” is a favorite to add to his trophy case Sunday at the Tonys after his work with Oscar winners Benj Pasek and Justin Paul on “Dear Evan Hansen.”
“If anyone could get inside our heads and take what we had, and translate it and then make it better, and really fully realize it with the orchestra and the way to produce the album of it, he is the singular kind of guy,” said Paul.
Lacamoire, a Berklee College of Music graduate who goes by Lac, wears many hats — orchestrator, music supervisor, conductor and music director. He’s able to ensure the music flows harmoniously, taking what a composer plays on a piano and having it make sense in a big Broadway pit.
“Every job feeds into the other,” he said. “The fact that I can swim through these different pools allows me to really have a total picture of the show.”
Lacamoire grew up in Miami with a passion for figuring out how music is put together. Instead of listening to cast albums, he chose to get deeper into the music by playing the sheet music.
“I was the kid who tried to play the guitar solos on my piano. I was the one who heard the cool bass licks on the Rush songs and picked up a bass and tried to do it,” he said.
By 16, he recalls writing down Stephen Sondheim’s song “I Know Things Now” before he could get his hands on the official printed version. “I can listen to a song once and sit down and play what it is,” he said.
Part of his job is often to be the one who writes down the score, solidifying it like a gospel writer. Lacamoire considers it an honor if someone in Iowa picks up the “Dear Evan Hansen” music and he had a hand in what they’re fingers are doing.
“Going back to the kid who was in Miami in his bedroom playing vocal selections from ‘Pippin,’ I’m always thinking, ‘How is this music going to look? How is this going to be replicable 10 years from now in a high school somewhere?’ I try to make it stand the test of time.”
Lacamoire is the guy you want nearby if you’re a composer. Miranda took him to the White House in 2009 when he unveiled the opening song of what would become “Hamilton.” He spent more than a year in the orchestra pit conducting the show and was often asked to accompany performers for the show’s joyous, free sidewalk performances outside the theater.
He got involved with “Dear Evan Hansen” when Paul came to his apartment to play a few songs — including “Waving Through a Window” and “Only Us” — from the fledgling show on his piano. “When I went over there, it was really my audition for him,” said Paul, laughing.
Lacamoire said he was quickly sold: “There’s a yearning to the music that aches in such a beautiful way,” he said. “You just feel this power within the music. There’s an energy to it.”
Diligent fans will also hear a little of what Lacamoire can add. On several songs he added a gloomy bit of guitar that signals, in a subtle, recurring way, whenever someone is lying. “That’s me kind of planting my flag in the score,” he said.
To create the cast album, Lacamoire chose to copy what he did for the “Hamilton” CD. Instead of rushing the recording over a day or two, he took his time, stretching it out over two weeks.
The result became the highest charting Billboard 200 debut for an original cast album since 1961, outpacing even the debut chart position of the “Hamilton” album. It entered that chart at No. 8 and hit No. 4 on Billboard’s top album sales ranking.
“Like ‘Hamilton,’ it’s going to allow people to have access to theater in a way they didn’t before,” he said. “What I love about these shows is that people who don’t normally listen to cast albums are listening to these albums.”
Mark Kennedy is at http://twitter.com/KennedyTwits